Finally on the brink of the ultimate industry accolade, the Hollywood hero makes an interesting case study for ambitious small business owners looking for inspiration.

Do you ever get the feeling that small businesses don’t get the recognition they deserve? Despite contributing £1.8 trillion to the UK economy last year and employing 15.6 million people, small businesses are rarely consulted by policy-makers and many corporates continue to pile on the pressure with slow payments.

What’s more, 35% of self employed people work more than 45 hours a week, yet pay themselves on average less than £11,000 a year, according to the ONS. Not only do small businesses lack support, they are often underpaid and underappreciated.

In other words, always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Which is where Leo comes in.

As you may have heard, Mr DiCaprio has never won Hollywood’s much-coveted golden statuette, despite having been nominated six times. His latest film The Revenant[1] is widely touted as the one that will finally win him the trophy, 23 years after his first nomination.

With his patience surely about to pay off, here’s a little inspiration from the small business community’s unlikely spirit animal, Leonardo DiCaprio.


Learn (the right way) to adapt

Leo is an example of the adaptability every small business owner needs. He has played heartthrobs, villains, kings and drug-addicts, to name a few. Small business leaders are equally called on to juggle a variety of roles, from HR manager, to marketing guru, to financial controller.

Cultivating this chameleon-like quality poses major challenges. Every individual is naturally suited to some roles more than others and trying to be all things to all people is a huge drain on time and energy. While the founder almost inevitably has to do it all at the beginning, there’s a lot to be said for knowing your strengths and identifying areas where you might need support.


But don’t try to be something you’re not

Being good friends with Romeo + Juliet[2] (and later The Great Gatsby[3]) director Baz Luhrmann, DiCaprio was a shoe-in for the lead in Moulin Rouge![4], but he passed it up. Why? According to interviews, he says he can’t sing!

Recognising your own strengths and weaknesses is vital when running a business and can lead to better choices when it comes to selecting potential business partners and early hires. It can also help avoid the common mistake of hiring in your own image.

When you work for yourself this self-awareness has to come from within. Employees get appraisals and feedback from colleagues. When you’re the boss, colleagues can be hesitant to tell you what you’re not good at. To your face anyway!


If you’re gonna do it, do it right

In filming The Revenant[1], DiCaprio endured frigid temperatures, swam across frozen rivers and ate raw bison liver (despite being a strict vegetarian) to accurately portray the hardships faced by his character.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend plunging into the local river or eating raw offal – having a deep understanding of your market and your customers is vital.

There’s much to be gained from immersing yourself in your business from every angle. How far can you go to walk in your customer’s shoes? Map out their journey from finding your business, buying your product or service and experiencing it, to post-purchase. You might spot kinks in the process or notice opportunities that you hadn’t previously considered.


Learn from success as well as mistakes

In 2015, Birdman[5] directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu won Best Motion Picture. It’s no coincidence that DiCaprio has pinned his latest award hopes on another Iñárritu film, The Revenant[1].

When things don’t go your way, it’s useful to take a step back and try to learn from the situation. This doesn’t always mean agonising over what went wrong – in DiCaprio’s case, it meant looking at what others had done right.

This can mean going beyond merely emulating successful competitors. Try looking at what other businesses from different sectors have done well and consider why it worked and how it might apply to your enterprise.


Find the perfect partner

Since Gangs of New York[6], Leo has worked with Martin Scorsese no less than five times including lead roles in The Aviator[7], The Departed[8] and Shutter Island[9].

As a business owner, there’s nothing more valuable than having a partner that you trust and with whom you have mutual respect.

There comes a time when every founding visionary has to find a great second (and third and fourth) in command, which means letting go of control and really trusting someone with your baby. It’s not always easy, especially if you’ve had your fingers burnt with an unreliable partner in the past. Yet making this leap is one of the best things an ambitious business owner can do to kick start growth.


And if all else fails…

Remember, you’re a good person! Beyond DiCaprio’s illustrious career, he’s also an avid environmentalist and campaigner for animal rights.

Small businesses contribute significantly to the UK economy, play a vital role in local communities, create jobs and pay their taxes. Business owners may not always get the support or recognition they deserve, but, much like our Hollywood hero, they are appreciated by the people that matter.

The world will watch with anticipation on 28th February to see whether Leo finally gets his golden moment. But if he’s usurped again and Matt Damon collects the award, don’t worry. Sometimes recognition takes years in the making – for actors and entrepreneurs alike. In the words of the man himself, “If you can do what you do best and be happy, you’re further along in life than most people.”


[1] The Revenant, 2015. [film, DVD]. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. USA: 20th Century Fox.

[2] Romeo + Juliet, 1996. [film, DVD]. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. USA: 20th Century Fox.

[3] The Great Gatsby, 2013. [film, DVD]. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. USA: Warner Bros.

[4] Moulin Rouge!, 2001. [film, DVD]. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. USA: 20th Century Fox.

[5] Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 2014. [film, DVD]. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. USA: Fox Searchlight.

[6] Gangs of New York, 2002. [film, DVD]. Directed by Martin Scorsese. USA: Miramax Film Corp.

[7] The Aviator, 2004. [film, DVD]. Directed by Martin Scorsese. USA: Miramax Film Corp.

[8] The Departed, 2006. [film, DVD]. Directed by Martin Scorsese. USA: Warner Bros.

[9] Shutter Island, 2010. [film, DVD]. Directed by Martin Scorsese. USA: Paramount.

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